The 1916 flood did a lot of damage in the Fairview area, but this damage was not as evenly distributed as one might think. The cove at the head of Rocky Fork received at least three times as much rain as the head of Wright’s Cove. Trantham’s Creek in Wright’s Cove flooded, but not even enough to flood the old Tom Miller house, which still stands on the north side of Old Fort Road. The old house is fairly close to the creek and sits on land that isn’t much higher than the creek bed. I have heard my grandmother’s brother say that Trantham’s Creek reached the Miller house but did not flood or damage it.
Rocky Fork was a different story. The clouds over the Rocky Fork area were said to have stayed until the last drop of water had been wrung out of them. Carrie Chatham Jenkins (1894-1985) and Carmie Chatham Guffey (1888-1982) said the ground in the Rocky Fork area became so soaked with water that it turned almost to soup, and the sides of the mountains just gave way and slid down to the valley. Carrie said the little knoll where her son Garland Jenkins built his rock house wasn’t there before the 1916 flood. It was land that had slid down the side of the mountain.
Elsa Pinkerton Trantham (1890-1976) said Rocky Fork Creek was 600 feet wide by the time it reached Cane Creek. Cane Creek rose until it was even with the top step at Alfred Pinkerton’s house. Elsa said they were afraid the house was going to be flooded but the creek stopped rising just in time to spare the house. Pinkerton’s mill was not as fortunate. Cane Creek washed the mill away. Even the two millstones were washed a quarter mile downstream; you can see them beside Old Fort Road today, marking the entrance to the driveway just before the Carrie Chatham Jenkins house. Alfred Pinkerton (1833-1919) became worried about his granddaughter and her family, who were living in what is now known as the Evert Trantham house. Everything was flooded except the hill in back of his house, so Pinkerton climbed the hill and walked to a place where he could see Tharda Trantham’s (1884-1942) house. Everything was under water from the Pinkerton house all the way to the Trantham house. Alfred Pinkerton yelled until finally someone at the Trantham house heard him and came out on the porch to yell back that they were all right.
George Oscar “Oss” Mitchell (1873-1939) also had a mill on Cane Creek. It was located just off what is now Blue Ridge Development Road near the place were Cane Creek goes under the road. It was washed away as well. The large bottomland south of his mill where Garren Creek and Cane Creek merge became one large lake. The force of the water changed the route of Cane Creek in several locations. Farmers who before the flood had owned land bordered or crossed by Cane Creek found out that after the flood the creek no longer came on or near their land. They often found themselves with no source of water for their livestock.
The lower end of Cane Creek below the new Cane Creek Middle School became half a mile wide in some places. The area from Gerton to below Chimney Rock was devastated; eight lives were lost at Bat Cave alone. Huge rocks weighing over a ton were tossed about in the Broad River like rubber balls. People in the Hickory Nut Gorge had to flee for high ground with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some did not make it.
Highway 74 (Charlotte Highway) had just been completed. The road and all its bridges were totally washed away, as were the Gerton, Bear Wallow, Bat Cave and Chimney Rock Post Offices. Middle Fork, which is located on the Henderson County side of Little Pisgah between Gerton and Bat Cave, was one of the areas most affected by the flood. The sides of the mountains gave way; one farmer could only stand by and watch as the mountain collapsed and swept away his house. The farmer’s wife and all his children were killed. At least two who died in the flood are buried in Middle Fork Cemetery. Many other bodies were never found, and many people who lost everything could not afford to mark their loved ones’ graves.
Floods are never a one-time event. What was flooded once will eventually be flooded again. The area’s population is three times larger than it was in 1916. The next 1916-type flood could produce ten times more death and destruction than the first one.
Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. If you have photographs, documents or history on residents of the community, call Mr. Whitaker at 628-1089 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.